The more you understand your customers, the easier it is for your business to succeed. Many companies have two distinct software tools that manage customer data: CRM manages sales and customer service, while ERP manages back-end invoicing and ordering. While both tools are useful in the right context, neither provides a truly comprehensive level of customer insight. It’s only possible to see the customer’s needs from all angles when you combine these two tools into a single, fully integrated platform.
A properly integrated CRM/ERP solution provides your company with a 360-degree customer view. More importantly, it provides every member of your organization—from the sales team to the field service reps—with instant access to the information they need to keep your customers happy. It also allows management to make more accurate sales forecasts, improve inventory management, and find new ways to increase efficiency.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for integrating CRM and ERP. During the navigation process, every company has unique needs, processes, and workflows that must be tracked. To gain a better understanding of how these integrations work, it helps to zoom out and look at the overall anatomy of a combined CRM/ERP platform.
Which software falls into the category of CRM, and which falls into ERP? Broadly speaking, any software system your company uses to manage sales and marketing data (such as Salesforce, SugarCRM, and HubSpot) is CRM. Any system that tracks financials and resources (such as Oracle, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, and Sage) is ERP.
At the same time, many companies still use a combination of less specialized software to fill some of these gaps. For instance, they use QuickBooks and Excel to create makeshift ERP. In fact, many companies still lack a true CRM, and rely on tools like Outlook to manage customer relationships.
While it may technically be possible to create a functional CRM/ERP integration from any combination of software, this tactic is rarely the best option. The best results come from using the right tools to achieve the optimal results, which may involve switching software.
On a fundamental level, CRM and ERP software aren’t that different. Both platforms are built around a central database, which allows the information they store to be easily examined and manipulated. By integrating these two systems, you can build a bridge between them that allows information to flow from one to the other.
However, both systems don’t necessarily share data equally. For instance, you may want to allow your sales team to check real-time inventory on a product, but not have the ability to make changes to those records. To be able to check this information, you need a unidirectional integration that pushes ERP inventory data into the CRM system, and that data should exist in read-only fields.
On the other hand, you may want your field service reps to have the ability to update customer contact information and push that data into a unified CRM/ERP customer record. This record may need to be updated again later, so the data may need to be identical on both platforms, which calls for a bidirectional integration.
A successful integration of these two systems requires taking the time to fully understand the company’s use cases for both their CRM and ERP solutions. The goal isn’t to create a single system that can do everything, but to create solutions that take advantage of the best elements of both platforms.
Why integrate your CRM and ERP systems at all? If both systems are working, why try to fix something that isn’t broken? The answer is efficiency.
Consider what it means to gain a true 360-degree view of your customer. To start, you need two standalone systems that are fully populated with a wide range of customer data. Across these platforms, some of that data (such as contact information) is redundant. Every change and update must be entered twice—which either requires two people who are individually trained to use one system, or one person who’s trained to use both. Either way, it’s a big investment of time for a relatively simple data-entry task.
Let’s say your entire company (including your salespeople, office staff, customer service reps, and even your managers) is proficient in both systems. To do their jobs, they need to switch back and forth between two highly complex pieces of software, which often involves manually copying data from one to the other. In this situation, its inevitable to have errors and wasted time. It’s just not an efficient way of handling vital customer information, and these inefficiencies only grow as the company scales.
The key to a great CRM/ERP integration is knowing what real-time data absolutely needs to exist in both systems. Every business has its own needs and use cases, but almost all integrations include these items:
By focusing on these essential fields first, it becomes much easier to gauge the success of a CRM/ERP integration. You can always add other elements later, such as shared access to third-party APIs and plugins.
If you’re still not convinced that a fully integrated CRM/ERP solution really makes sense for your business, consider the value of a unified platform from the perspective of someone who doesn’t work in the office.
For instance, a field sales rep may only have his smartphone with him during a customer visit. Perhaps he needs to check the inventory of a given item, but he only has access to the sales-focused CRM. If so, getting an answer requires calling into the home office.
This kind of situation takes up valuable time during client meetings and requires a skilled employee to do an ERP-related task that’s fairly simple and somewhat menial. That’s a net loss for the business, and over time, those costs start to add up. In a midsize company with a few hundred sales reps, this situation could easily eat away hundreds of dollars of staff time each month.
With this situation in mind, a mobile strategy should be seen as an essential piece of any CRM/ERP integration. Although it’s a core use case, it often gets overlooked or treated as an afterthought. By building mobile elements from the get-go, you’re actually creating a system that’s far more equipped for the future than you realize.
No matter what your industry, the better you understand your customers, the more likely it is your company will thrive. By combining the best parts of your CRM and ERP systems, you’re doing more than making it easier to access customer records. You’re gaining a 360-degree viewpoint about each customer, while providing a simpler way for every part of your business to deliver the products those customers need.